By James Anderson, Associated Press
Colorado Senate Democrats protested what they call light punishment for a Republican senator repeatedly accused of sexual and workplace harassment, saying Thursday they’d keep demanding the lawmaker’s resignation.
Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who represents rural northwestern Colorado, was stripped of committee posts after an independent investigator found credible claims by eight people that he created a hostile work environment during the 2016 session.
KUNC-FM first reported the punishment, the claims he faced plus an earlier allegations that Baumgardner had groped a former legislative aide during the same session.
That case led to a failed Senate vote to expel him on April 2 — a vote held after weeks of demands by Democrats that for it be held or for Baumgardner to resign.
Senate President Kevin Grantham announced the decision about Baumgardner’s committee assignments in a letter released Thursday.
“It’s never pleasant meting out punishments of this sort to colleagues, but the three of us who were tasked with making this decision are comfortable that it was justified in this case,” Grantham said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert and Democratic Minority Leader Leroy Garcia.
Baumgardner wasn’t at the Capitol Thursday and did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment. He has denied wrongdoing.
But Garcia and other Democrats were told — not consulted — by Grantham about Baumgardner’s punishment, said Mansur Gidfar, spokesman for Senate Democrats.
“To suggest that Sen. Garcia thinks this punishment is adequate is false,” Gidfar said. “Our entire caucus has said from the beginning that Sen. Baumgardner must resign. Nothing about today’s decision changes that.”
Colorado lawmakers, like other U.S. statehouses, are grappling with modernizing workplace harassment policies with the rise of the #MeToo movement last fall — a now-global movement publicizing sexual misconduct that has permeated government and a host of other industries.
The Colorado Legislature commissioned an outside harassment policy study after five lawmakers were accused of misconduct.
Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled in March after being accused of harassing five women, including a fellow lawmaker. Lebsock denied the allegations.
KUNC said an outside investigator had tried to interview Baumgartner between March 7 — well before the expulsion vote — and April 11.
Baumgardner told the investigator his attorney was out of the country.
Senate Democrats questioned whether Baumgardner or Republican state Senate leaders withheld information about the investigation before the failed expulsion vote.
Grantham insisted last week that he had only received the investigator’s report on April 20, and he pledged action against Baumgardner before the 2018 legislative session ends on May 9.